The underlying reality of women in agriculture in Africa, is one of perpetual struggle and cyclical poverty. There are significant gender disparities in the way that key resources essential for success in agriculture are distributed across Africa. Access to land, inputs, assets, markets, information and knowledge, time, decision-making authority and income still present a challenge for women in the sector. For instance, in Nigeria more than 70% of plots of land are owned by a single man, while only 8% are owned by a single woman. Even in countries where men and women own an equal percentage of land deeds, the plot area for arable land substantially favours men. This ensures that women who are farming for either sustenance or income are disadvantaged. According to a 2011 report of the FAO, if men and women had equal access to productive resources in agriculture, food output in developing countries would increase by between 2.5 and 4 percent which could pull 100-150 million people out of hunger and, yet women continue to be discriminated against in accessing these resources.
It is therefore significant that the NEPAD Spanish Fund for African Women Empowerment provided funding amounting to € 4,493,039 to 27 projects which included agricultural and agro-processing elements, thereby directly benefitting more than 29,600 women. These agricultural projects fall under the purview of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDPs), especially goal 2 which aims to eradicate hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition while promoting sustainable agriculture; as well as the African Union’s Agenda 2063 goal 5 which envisages a modern agriculture for increased productivity and production, and goal 17 for full gender equality in all spheres of life.
NSF interventions included provision of seeds and the establishment of seed banks, training on modern farming techniques, the use of herbicides/pesticides to enhance and protect crop yields, training on the importance of crop diversification, organising female farmers into cooperatives to mitigate the risks associated with subsistence farming, establishing channels for the sale of excess agricultural output, assisting with the implementation and operationalization of irrigation systems, training on the importance of composting and soil management, constructing warehouses and storage facilities for agricultural produce, improving women’s access to arable farming land and securing land title deeds for women. The agricultural projects therefore helped to increase the female beneficiaries’ incomes and facilitated local economic development in rural parts of Africa.
Key lessons learned from NSF projects on agriculture and agro processing:
- Focus on enhanced labour-saving initiatives in agricultural activities
- Increase efforts to secure land rights for African women
- Undertake a feasibility study with agronomists before the onset of agricultural projects
- Important to account for the seasonal nature of agricultural projects
Focus on enhanced labour-saving initiative in agriculture activities
Projects in The Gambia, Republic of Guinea, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo argued for an enhanced focus on labour-saving initiatives, particularly for women in agricultural activities. These projects emphasised the impact that drudgery has on women, as this decreases the time they can devote to their families and other income generating activities. This was identified as one of the primary constraints to women’s economic emancipation. The Gambian Women’s Bureau specifically invested in equipment and infrastructure to alleviate the physical burden many women face and increase their overall productivity. Such measures are important in the context of African women, because they are often unable to produce enough to ensure sustainable and sufficient income. By ensuring that women are able to use their time more effectively, as well as conserve their energy, they are better able to produce outputs and invest time in their other priorities.
Increase efforts to secure land rights for African women
Land ownership is still dictated by entrenched patriarchal norms in many African countries and few women are fully informed about their rights regarding access to land. Projects in the Republic of Kenya, the Republic of Uganda and the Republic of Senegal aimed to secure greater access to land for women living in rural areas and to strengthen their demand for reform of customary land management. Many of the women’s organisations that benefitted from funding provided by the NSF found that engaging with national governments and community leaders on the topic of women’s land and inheritance rights helped to precipitate changes to national land policies, laws and structures. The inclusion of national governments and community leaders further ensures that the land rights of women are maintained over their lifetimes, without the threat of future retaliation from communities.
Undertake a feasibility study with agronomists before the onset of agricultural projects
A number of project teams emphasized the importance of undertaking feasibility studies with agronomists before the onset of agricultural projects. This ensured that crop selection is optimized for the local conditions. Furthermore, bringing in experts to teach local agronomists how to sample soils and test soil fertility will benefit agricultural projects, as this allows for the matching of crops to the soil type, thereby maximising yields. This was particularly relevant to the project by SOS CEDIA in the Republic of Angola.
Important to account for the seasonal nature of agricultural projects
The Maimu Women Agriculture Project in the Republic of Liberia voiced a concern that was relevant to many of the projects. This relates to the importance of accounting for the seasonal nature of agricultural projects and ensuring that the project commences at the correct time of year to ensure successful crop yields.